In praise of 1966 and all that. . .

NADV 1204271 Red House Art. Richard McTague of RedHouse Orginals with artist Dudley Edwards. Picture : Adrian Murray (1204271AM)
NADV 1204271 Red House Art. Richard McTague of RedHouse Orginals with artist Dudley Edwards. Picture : Adrian Murray (1204271AM)

IT’S rare to get the chance to see art which sums up the spirit of the 60s without adding to its long list of clichés.

Perhaps the reason the artworks produced by Dudley Edwards and his colleagues in the design collective BEV still resonate so strongly of the fabled ‘Swinging Sixties’ in a living sense, as opposed to nostalgic, is because they practiced applied art as much as fine art.

So, instead of simply Pop Art in this excitingly youthful exhibition at Harrogate’s RedHouse Originals gallery, although there’s certainly enough of that to keep fans happy, there’s also furniture, pianos, posters, shop fronts and a Buick motor car, though these are presented mostly in the form of limited edition photographs and prints.

The annotations alone in this brilliantly-curated exhibition are worth a visit in themselves, revealing one anecdote at a time that these talented northerners knew and worked with everyone who mattered in the ongoing youth revolution which spilled out of the Kings Road into the world.

Arriving before London officially swung, their youthful energy and colourful talents were, indeed, part of the reason that London was to acquire that moniker in 1966.

Not that Halifax-born Dudley Edwards, who’s here in person to sign copies of a new book called Electrical Banana: Masters of Psychedelic Art which features his 60s work prominently, likes to bask in the limelight.

The 60s may have fired the starting pistol for the future but Edwards tells me he and his ‘cohorts’ weren’t actually that influenced by Pop Art contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Peter Blake.

And they were ‘psychedelic’ almost by accident, though such was their reputation, they were asked to create the light shows at key counter-culture events such as Carnival of Light at the Roundhouse in Camden in 1967.

“I’d say we were more about taking the colours and lines of fairgrounds and comic books into the art world. When we were all growing up, that was about all we had to brighten our lives up, except for movies. We all like art deco, too, which had an effect on what we did.”

Luck played its part, too, the likeable Edwards admits that, bumping into the right person at the right time resulted in several important commissions for shops like Lord John and Beatle Paul McCartney who asked him to paint his piano, one he still plays in concert to this day.

One such story had a less than happy ending when BEV were asked to paint Guinness heir Tara Browne’s AC Cobra sports car.

It’s testimony to this team of modernists command of traditional craft skills that they did so by hand without disassembling the vehicle.

Sadly, the 21-year-old socialite was to die in a car crash only months later.

It was a different sports car but Edwards says his father orderd the surviving Cobra painted black in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Someone else also tried to jump on the BEV bandwagon straight from hosting Top of the Pops.

Says Edwards: “Jimmy Savile, who was a famous DJ and presenter at the time, heard about Paul’s ‘Magic Piano’ and asked me if I’d paint his, too. Being Jimmy, though, he wanted me to pay him for the honour. I told him not to try it on because I was from Yorkshire, too!”

Dudley has plenty more of those stories but the art on show can speak for itself in what is the best exhibition about about the 60s I’ve ever seen.

Graham Chalmers

In Technicolour exhibition continues until May 26